The Herald Banner, Greenville, TX

Opinion

October 2, 2012

Keeping space around handicapped parking clear

I parked my motorcycle in the unlined space between the handicapped spots at Walmart on I-30 in Greenville to run in for a few minutes to pick up a prescription. There were already two other motorcycles on the same narrow strip.

 When I came out, the other two bikes were gone, and the Greenville “Citizens on Patrol” were giving me a ticket. I walked back inside to ask the manager if it was OK to park a bike there, and he said it was fine with him.

 Since I had Walmart’s permission and wasn’t on the lined spots, can I get out of the ticket? — J.R., Texarkana

No. The unmarked lane between the handicapped parking spots at Walmart is a lane for wheelchair-bound people to safely make it to the store without braving the dangers of the lot. This is important in an extremely busy parking lot like that because people do not always watch for shorter hazards like wheelchairs and children.

People in wheelchairs are especially vulnerable because they cannot move out of the way quickly if they see a driver texting, applying makeup, or lighting a cigarette instead of watching where they are going. That is why you cannot park there.

Your supposed “permission” from Walmart is not going to get you out of the ticket either. No owner or manager of a private lot can waive the clear and enforceable handicapped parking and fire lane rules - for any reason, and at any time. This is the case no matter how busy the store is, no matter how few spots there, and no matter how little time you spend “running into” the store.

I have a serious problem with the City of Greenville “COP” (Citizens on Patrol) program. My wife and I have both received tickets from them in handicapped parking spaces — one at the mall and one at Super 1 food store.

In neither case were we parked in the marked spaces, but were on the lines next to the spaces.  We are both in our late 60s, and park there so we can walk without worrying about a fall. We are very careful to ensure we do not park where handicapped people need to park.

On both of the tickets the “COPs” marked a $500 fine for the infraction, but the signs in both places say it is a $50-$200 fine. I have pictures and video of that. This seems to be a serious ethical issue on the City’s part. What can I do to stop them from treating others the same way? — Name Withheld, Greenville

Nothing. The City of Greenville Police Department and the C.O.P. program are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing — ticketing people who illegally park in the reserved handicapped locations. The area, as explained above, does not extend only to the parking space. It also includes the lined areas where you admit to parking. Those are there for loading and unloading of handicapped passengers and drivers only.

There are many people in their 90s who don’t illegally park in handicapped spots, so your age is irrelevant. If you are too frail to walk further than the handicapped spots, you should ask your doctor to approve a placard then park legally in the space. 

As for the fine amount: The legislature changed the law several years ago to make any handicapped parking offense a minimum $500 ticket. As a municipal prosecutor, I can tell you that this is one of only two tickets that may not be reduced (the other is a no-insurance ticket).

I hear this complaint constantly, and see pictures of these wrong signs at least once a month. The city and state may not force store owners to change their signs, nor may they accept a lower fine.  If you don’t want to pay a $500 fine, park in a legal spot.

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